Insider’s Guide to the Chicago Botanic Garden

Sometimes you just need to stroll through a garden, take a deep breath and smell the Floribunda roses. At the Chicago Botanic Garden—you can do all that and more. With 27 gardens spanning 385 acres in Glencoe, Illinois, the Chicago Botanic Garden provides an escape that can easily stimulate all the senses for an entire day. 

This outdoor oasis is open every day of the year, luring in horticulturalists, Tai Chi masters, photographers, families young and old and anyone who just needs a pretty place to take a relaxing walk or bike ride. 

Know Before You Go: Travel & Parking

The Chicago Botanic Garden is about 20 miles north of Chicago, so make sure to account for travel time when planning your visit. The easiest ways to get to the Chicago Botanic Garden are by car, or by train via the Braeside Metra train station on Metra’s Union Pacific North Line.

While the Botanic Garden is open year-round, the hours do change seasonally so make sure to check the official website for the most up to date information when planning your visit. There’s no fee to enter, but parking will run you between $25-30 per car. Various discounts are provided for groups like local residents, military personnel, educators and seniors, to name a few. 

Pre-Registration and Timed Entry

To limit the number of visitors and accommodate physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chicago Botanic Garden requires visitors to pre-register (non-refundable!) before their visit. Pre-registration is based on cars instead of by individual visitors, so all members of your party—who are traveling to the Garden in the same car—will be covered by one single registration. 

During the pre-registration process—which can be done through the Botanic Garden’s website—you’ll select a 1-hour time slot during which you must arrive at the Garden. Your time slot doesn’t limit your visit though. Once you’re in the Botanic Garden, you can stay until it closes. Don’t forget to print out your pre-registration form or have it handy on your phone when you arrive at the Botanic Garden. You have to present proof of registration before you’ll be allowed to enter.

If you’re walking into the Garden or biking in through the North Branch Trail, you don’t need to worry about pre-registering. You can just walk or bike right up, free of charge!

COVID-19 Safety Protocols at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Throughout the park, visitors are required to wear face coverings in places where 6 feet of physical distance between visitors cannot be maintained—this includes congested pathways and indoor areas, the Garden View Café, Garden Shop, the Model Railroad Garden and Grand Tram Tours. Some narrow entrances and walkways within the Garden are closed to prevent crowding, and a few of the indoor attractions—like The Regenstein Center and Greenhouses, Regenstein Learning Center and the Plant Science Center—have also been closed until further notice. 

Visitors can still go to The Garden Shop, but the number of people allowed inside at any given time will be limited. You can also still dine within the Botanic Garden. The Garden Grille is open and there is a grab-and-go café on the Esplanade. Keep in mind that you must pay with a credit card. Seating is available at physically distanced tables, which are all sanitized frequently. 

Restrooms are open in the Visitor Center and the Regenstein Center’s Greenhouse Galleries (though, as previously mentioned, the galleries themselves are closed). Portable toilets and hand-sanitizer stations are located throughout the park, but all drinking fountains are off limits so bring your own water. 

Navigating Around the Garden

Chicago Botanical Gardens.
Japanese Garden’s bridge surrounded by trees during the fall season.

Once in the park, there’s a free mobile app you can download to locate different plants and navigate your way through the individual displays and areas. Printed maps are also available. If you need some extra help finding your way, you can join a walking tour or a tram tour.

Give yourself plenty of time to wander around. Most first-timers make the mistake of thinking they can soak in all the Botanic Garden has to offer in just two hours, but that’ll only allow you to cover about a quarter of the grounds. Take your time and give yourself a day to really enjoy the space. 

The English Walled Garden and English Oak Meadow are both extremely popular, as is the Japanese Garden. A lot of visitors have said these international displays can (somewhat) satisfy that craving for international travel that so many of us are missing out on right now. If you’re looking for a great photo stop, the Waterfall Garden and the adjacent bridge that leads to the Japanese Garden are both favorites for engagement shoots and cute family photos

The Dixon Prairie is also a popular stop for many visitors—especially in fall. The prairie covers 15 acres of space with 6 different prairie ecosystems. Prepare to stretch your legs on the pathways in this area. 

Picnics and Outdoor Recreation

The Botanic Garden is a great spot for a picnic, but leave your blanket at home and plan to buy your picnic haul onsite (no outside food allowed). Visitors aren’t permitted to lay blankets on the grass, except during special performances and events, so opt to settle in at a table in the Garden’s Picnic Glen area instead. Make sure to finish your snacks before you get back to exploring—food is not permitted within the various garden areas. 

Biking is permitted on the east road and there’s a bike rack conveniently located outside the Visitor Center. Other sports and activities, like skateboarding, snowshoeing and Frisbee, are prohibited—as is bringing or playing musical instruments.

Unfortunately, furry friends can’t join you for a day at the Botanic Garden. Dogs and other pets are not allowed, though service animals are permitted.

Botanic Garden Events

The Garden grounds also play host to a number of events throughout the year—ranging from educational seminars to fitness classes and seasonal events. Recurring events include things like farm dinners, Tai Chi classes, flower shows and musical performances, and the Garden’s Adult Education calendar is jam-packed.

Some upcoming can’t-miss events include Night of 1,000 Jack-O-Lanters in October, which features more than 1,000 hand-carved jack-o-lanterns lighting up the grounds, and Lightscape, which runs from November to early January and celebrates the magic of the holiday season with light and sound displays throughout the Botanic Garden. 

Due to COVID-19, some events may be cancelled or modified at the last minute so it’s best to check the Botanic Garden website for the most up to date information and any regulations you may need to be aware of before you attend an event. 

More Blooms to Enjoy

The Chicago Botanic Garden can easily occupy an entire day, but for those who are still craving  more the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park and the Lincoln Park Conservatory are other great options to check out in and around the Windy City. And if you or someone you know would like to come back to the Botanic Garden over and over again, then a Chicago Botanic Garden membership may be the perfect holiday gift this year!


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